Tuesday, April 3, 2012

And You Thought YOUR Skin was Thin!

(Courtesy Tumblr)

They say if you want to be a successful writer, you have to be "thick-skinned."

What does that even mean?

Because I would guess that even when Stephen King gets a bad review (and surely there are still people that don't think he's a "real," serious writer even though he's published over 50 novels), it gets under his skin.

When I blog, I talk about my life and what is going on in it. Unless I'm showing you pretty pictures of what I've been laboring over with my needle for enough hours to cramp my fingers and put my shoulder into a frozen position.

And when you talk about your life and what is going on in it, you are bound to upset a few apple carts. I know that, but I still choose to talk about my life and what's going on in it.

And when I accidentally say something about someone that I know that for some unintended reason offends them and they immediately react, my feelings get hurt. Because I don't mean to upset people with what I write.

When that happens, I shut down. And only post pictures of my cross stitching. I also unfriend people on facebook. Yeah, yeah, I know. How childish, right?

But maybe not so childish.

Because if they are people that I am not really friends with and they saw the link to my blog and read it and realized it was about them and took offense about something that was in no way meant to be offensive, why are they are on my friends list again?

I've been thinking a lot for the last couple of weeks about who is on my friends list and why I became "friends" with them in the first place. You kind of expect to friend the people who are your neighbors when you all moved in together at the same time and went to each others' barbeques and Christmas parties and borrowed their DVD's and had their kids come and watch your dog while you went away on Thanksgiving.

Is that friendship or is that being neighborly? I think it depends on whether you ask me or Justin. Everyone we know on our street is nice and every one of them would consider Justin a friend. Me? Probably not. But it's not them. It's me. In this situation, it really is me.

I realized over the last couple of weeks that these people whose barbeques I went to and whose DVD's I borrowed and dogs I pet when I was outside are really Justin's friends. Everybody loves Justin, which always catches him off guard, because in general, he doesn't consider himself a people person. He much prefers his own company to that of other people. And yet, when he is around other people, they tend to be drawn to him. He's super friendly, super nice, and really helpful when you need someone to help move furniture or hang a picture or borrow a tool from the garage workbench (where I can't find anything because he doesn't have time to straighten it up and I don't know where to start "decrapifying" because I have no idea what is the crap and what is the stuff we need).

I realized in the last couple of weeks that I am probably considered "weird" by our neighbors. That my attempts to be friends with them have been rebuffed, maybe not intentionally, but certainly in a polite yet clear (to me) way. In other words, they haven't rebuffed me at all, but I perceived that they did. They probably have no idea that I am a shy, socially inept person who would really love for any one of them to say, "Hey, let's go grab lunch." And any one of them would probably happily go grab lunch with me, but after almost six years, in my mind, it's just too late.

In the real world where Justin lives, it would probably be absolutely fine for me to go down the street and invite one of the nice ladies that live down there out to lunch or a movie or to grab a drink at Starbucks. But in my anxious, agoraphobic, rejection fearing world, it's not. We live in the same house but we're living in two totally different worlds. Isn't that weird and kind of awesome at the same time? Except my world isn't always so awesome. Because since I spend a lot of time alone, my world isn't always a fun place to be. You wouldn't want to live in my head either, believe me. Not that I'm saying Justin's world is always awesome. He works like a dog and where's the fun in that?

And I have assumed a lot of things about them that may not be true either. I make connections that make no sense and observations that are in no way based upon reality. Yep, that's me.

The fact remains that Justin is the honey that draws the flies and I am the one who leaves the party early because of my incredible anxiety over talking to people I don't know. (And how much did that sentence suck in a literary way?)

It's not that I don't like you. It's that I think you aren't going to like me. In fact, I'm assuming you're not going to like me. That because I stay at home and am disabled and don't have a "real" job, I won't have anything interesting to say and you're going to rapidly become bored and want to go play words with friends or draw something on your iPhone.

In fact, what I desperately want is to be friends with all of my neighbors. But I'm too much of a recluse and too awkward and shy and socially fragile and just plain scared to be friends. I'm a great friend if you can get past that, but it might take some work on your part and who has time to do that kind of work?

I wonder how after ten years of therapy, I haven't figured out how to make friends. I know a lot more about myself, but I still don't know how to get the anxiety under control. I know why I have the anxiety. I just don't know how to make it go away.

But I decided last month to make yet another effort to make friends by joining the Embroidery Guild of America and the local embroidery club (as soon as I found out about them, I forced myself to go to the very next meeting). For some reason, I find that these women aren't nearly as scary as other women, like, for instance, my neighbors, and I think it's because they are all older than me. It's something about other women who are my age or younger that scares me too much to really making an effort. I see other women who have lots and lots of women friends their own age and I wonder how on earth they did that. And assuming that people won't like me is the basis of all of my fear.

So I "unfriended" a few people on my friends list last week because I like talking about my life on my blog and I don't want to unintentionally offend anyone I have to live by for the next ten years, which is how long we think we're going to have to stay in this house before the kids all graduate and move out and the housing market turns around.

I'm okay with the friendly wave "hello." It's just knowing what to say after hello that is the problem.

When I discovered that I had upset my neighbor a couple of weeks ago, I immediately apologized by email and edited the post to take out all of the information about her. Justin suggested I go down and talk to her, but I just wasn't able to do that. Because I was too shy and socially inept and awkward to actually do that. And it scared the living shit out of me, because what if she slammed the door in my face, even though she had just sent back a very nice email accepting my apology? She wouldn't do that. I know she wouldn't. But that's what my anxious little brain tells me would happen and I think I'd much rather stay in the house and do the friendly wave thing than go down and have an actual conversation. I can't look her in the eyes and tell her I'm so sorry that you felt uncomfortable with what I posted in my blog.

It's a sickness and it's called anxiety and panic disorder. And I have it in spades.

Justin doesn't understand it. My kids don't understand it. Really, I don't understand it. But there it is.

Am I friends with my neighbors? Probably not. Because I can't be. I wish I knew how to fix it, but I don't.

And honestly? I'm okay with that. Because I don't have to be friends with them, even though I am incredibly envious that Justin is. Well, maybe I'm not okay with it, but I have to live with it or change it and I am too scared to try to change it.

And I will still make every effort to go to our next door neighbor's Christmas party every year because I really do like him a lot. I know he thinks I don't like parties and he's right. I don't like parties. But how often is the neighbor closest to you someone that you genuinely like? We got very lucky. And that's why I will force myself to at least make an appearance.

The annual block party? No. Too many opportunities to say something awkward and no bathroom to hide in.

The annual yard sale? Probably, because I can sit in my garage while people pick though my stuff and talk to people if they want to talk to me.

Going down and talking to my neighbor face to face about how sorry I am that I upset her? Not a chance. How very sad that I can't do that.


  1. I'm a recluse also but I really like it the majority of the time. I have been friends with my neighbours in other areas I have lived and dreaded it because they made demands.I rather just wave and nothing else. I don't like my neighbours at all in my business and that is what neighbours tend to do. I think I have spoke a sentence to the neighbours I have now. When I go in my backyard I want to enjoy it with silence and not having one wave over the tree line and talk to me. I totally ignore them now. It seems a little rude of me but I don't want to be friends with any of my neighbours.I want to be in my little world which is a safe place at home.

  2. You are an excellent writer and I love reading your blog. I would certainly like to go out to lunch with you! I also stay home and work from home and don't talk to my neighbors either, just a "hi" as I'm walking down the street to the group mailbox since we don't have one in front of every house. I'm sorry you are so anxious, but you can have plenty of online virtual friends!

  3. I'm not friends with my neighbor and I don't care to be. It drains too much energy from my body when I try and live by the words that whisper in my brain, "thou shalt love thy neighbor."

    Screw that, my neighbors are petty, jealous, miscreants who don't deserve my friendship!


    However, I love you, fellow blogger. At least you are sharing productive thoughts in this world.

  4. I understand you Chelle. I would happily have lunch with you. I'm a natural introvert and would happily stay indoors all the time, but I know I must force myself to go out regularly, even though I find it extremely tiring.The Embroidery Guild is so good for you. When you realize that people do like you and your mind isn't telling you the truth you should feel a lot better about yourself. Have you heard of the Cognitive Behavioural Therapy course? I did it years ago and it helped with my negative thoughts. They are just that, thoughts, and not the truth. A big {hug} to you from me.xxx


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